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A collection of crows is called a murder. A clutch of kittens is called a kindle. So what do you call a group of human beings?

The answer, at least of late, and (gratefully) in a minority of instances, is to call them animals. Those gang members are animals. That person is an animal.

This is all very easy and very satisfying. It makes sense to separate these people from our own species, to make them less like us. It creates a comfortable distance and encourages us to not bother treating them as we would other human beings. It gives us license to dismiss them. Or worse.

But it is also very dangerous. For one thing, animals aren’t like people; in many ways they are better. They don’t rape and kill for power and position…or just for the heck of it. There were no muskrats or springboks eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Even if you only accept that story as metaphor, animals are clearly exonerated. When they kill, they do so from instinct — to eat, to protect their young. You won’t see any real wolves on Wall Street — or bulls or bears, either. Just humans doing human things, which are often greedy, self-motivated or based on the basest of emotions: fear or anger.

The truth is: Only human beings willingly choose evil. That is a frightening thing. But it is also a fact that we must look at, clear-eyed and without flinching. Only when we understand our complicity in evil can we start to correct it. But that understanding has to start in our own souls, because that is where evil hides out. None of us is immune to it. If we can call a person an animal, we can commit evil against that person. It’s a slippery slope, folks, lined with Slip ‘n’ Slides and plummeting down to the depths of human depravity. They may be on that slope, but so are we.

Every human being, no matter how unlike us they might be, is a human being. God made them. God made us. God made Liberals. God made Conservatives. God made gang members. There is never — ever — justification for treating someone as less than human, even if that person is choosing to treat me as less than human.

Let’s remember that the next time we feel the urge to other someone. And let’s respond in a truly human way — with hugs, not name-calling.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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